Friday Deep- Broadcasting

Posted on May 30, 2010

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Most communications majors are sculptors at heart. Just as sculptors look at a slab of marble and remove everything that does not look like an oiled-up Greek athlete, so do most communications majors look at a higher education and chip away anything that does not look like something insanely easy. Also like sculptors, we’re mostly interested in essences. It’s a philosophical undertaking- “If I strip the college experience of its inessential elements,” we say, “like grades, class attendance and sometimes bathing regularly, what would I discover at its pulsing core?” Most usually discover the essence of collegiate life revolves around Tecmo Bowl and Mountain Dew. Others discover that essence revolves around flunking out. Not everyone can be Michelangelo.

During my junior year of college someone, somewhere in the recesses of the Communications department, decided to offer a class called Sports Broadcasting. This was a left field development, if ever there was one. Most of the classes that were typically offered had names like ‘Parenthetical Communication Seminar II’ and ‘Advanced Dynamic Microphonics’, the kinds of class names chosen by the Committee for Keeping Textbook Prices in Triple Digits. At the time I was still weaving in and out of the major like a panicked field mouse, dodging tough-sounding classes like barn owls in the night. ‘Sports Broadcasting’?  This was a gift. It was delicious manna from heaven. A clear message from God that he loved me and wanted me to continue to sleep in until noon, eat breadsticks all day and never graduate.

The instructor of the class was the play-by-play man for a semi-pro basketball team in Fort Wayne, who also called the occasional high school game and Taylor women’s volleyball game. He played us some of his calls and he was actually pretty good. The class began with unprecedented levels of awesomeness and anticipation (“We’re going to talk about sports in class?”) and ended with us convincing the instructor to let someone play Madden on the 14 foot projector screen while the rest of us called the game, and that this was a totally legitimate use of class time. Our assignments were to find local Taylor sports, broadcast them into pocket recorders, and then hand them in to be critiqued.  Most of us ended up calling college basketball games on TV and making editorial comments about the ways that Duke cheated. To my knowledge none of us ever ended up on SportsCenter.

Calling a sporting event is like eating 4 pounds of blueberries- it sounds easy until you actually do it.  Broadcasting requires that you keep up a steady stream of words and comments so that people know what’s happening- you’re calling the game, which means you’re using words to paint the picture of the game for the listener.  You can’t stop- if you stop, nobody know’s what’s going on, like if Vanna White decided one day on ‘Wheel Of Fortune’ that she wouldn’t turn over any letters. 

I still remember the terror I felt when I actually had to turn on the microphone and call a women’s basketball game for class. I forgot names.  I mixed up players, and I mis-identified defenses.  I caught myself watching when I was supposed to be talking.  Most of all, I spoke with the growing awareness that I was saying the same things over and over again, and it sounded like nonsense, except I had no choice- it was either nonsense, or dead air. “How many times will I say ‘across the timeline’ or ‘pick-and-pop’? Did my voice just crack? I sound like a lunatic.  And am I saying all this out loud?  FOR GOD’S SAKE, DON’T SAY THIS OUT LOUD!!”

I was in Uganda on a missions trip last week. Our goal was to share the Gospel with people in remote villages and help plant churches. Part of this effort was to train local believers and pastors to do evangelism. The idea is, we as missionaries model how to do practical evangelism, and then gradually hand the evangelism effort off to the pastors as our time with them progresses. This process can be slow, or it can happen quickly. In my case, it happened quickly, like, on the very first day. This is good news from a ‘Gospel’ perspective, but bad news from a ‘me’ perspective.  Mentally, my mindset going in was to be doing a lot of talking.  Lots of Andrew doing things and being the focus of the effort.  I had to come to grips with the fact that I was not going to be talking, but training, helping, and watching. Lots of watching.

Which brings me to Habakkuk.  Habakkuk is a book of the Bible that doesn’t get a ton of foot traffic.  It belongs to a class of books known as the Minor Prophets, or  “Guys With Names That Sound Like A Mongoose Choking On A Racquetball”, which is how they’re known in seminary.  You could dump out a box of Alpha-Bits and the first 12 pieces you pick up could form one of their names.  It’s rough.  But the name aside, I really like Habakkuk.  It’s basically ‘Job for Dummies.’  If you want to read something about the problem of pain and evil, but don’t want to saddle up to scale the Mt. Everest that is Job, reach for Habakkuk instead- only 3 chapters!  If Job is ‘War and Peace’, Habakkuk is Archie Comics #1.  It’s great.

In the book, Habakkuk lodges a complaint against God about the injustice he thinks God is tolerating.  He thinks God is sitting in the stands when he is supposed to be stepping in.  Habakkuk 1:5 records God’s response to Habakkuk, saying “Look at the nations and watch-and be utterly amazed.  For I am going to do something in your days that you would not even believe, even if you were told.”  Look.  Watch.  Be amazed.

Broadcasting is how I thought I needed to be in Uganda.  Broadcasting means always talking, always commenting, always being in the thick of the action.  I was there as a missionary, so naturally I was going to be in the forefront, right?  Naturally I would be working, doing, keeping up a never-ending stream of activity and words and working, right?  After all, that’s what I was there for- to do things. Imagine my surprise when the exact opposite happened.  God basically told me what he told Habakkuk- just sit down and watch what I do, and be blown away.  Watch as these pastors share the Gospel well, watch as people turn their lives towards Me, watch as I build a brand new church community in 4 days.  Watch.

It’s my mindset that in order for the Christian life to work, my activity level needs to stay high.  Do this.  Go here.  Tithe that.  Pray without ceasing.  Stay active.  None of those things are bad, but sometimes over a long period of time, a message develops that says “This whole thing revolves around me.”  That kind of life is tangentially related to God- I’m doing God actions, saying God words all the time- but God Himself is actually not really involved.  It becomes about what I do, and not what God is doing that I’m a part of.  God sort of gets ushered out the door while I busy myself with the broadcast.

How nice that God occassionally interrupts our regularly scheduled programming with this breaking news:  turn down the volume.  The chatter on the broadcast of our lives- moral busyness, righteous activity, constant religious motion- puts a heavy burden on us and sometimes drowns out the things that God is actually doing.  In those times sometimes He tells us to take a deep breath and stop- full stop, stop everything- grab a seat, and just be a spectator as He works.

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